One month into my junior year of high school and four months after my dad’s sudden death, I declared to my closest friends over school lunch mystery meat that I was quitting church, and, by extension, God.
Less than 24 hours earlier, a well-intentioned church youth group leader had approached me in the hallway after church to inquire how I was doing.
“It sucks.” I said. “I think I’ve finally realized that my dad isn’t on an extended business trip. He’s gone. He’s really gone.“
“Oh, Maria,” he said putting his hand on my shoulder, “You know, Jesus wouldn’t want you to be sad. He’d want you to be hopeful because you’re going to see your dad again one day.”
“Really?” I said, rolling my eyes. “That’s all you’ve got?” I had long wearied of platitudes that denied my suffering rather than making space for it. Not only had God let me down, so had the people called the church.
While adolescence is ripe for questioning of one’s faith, my friends and I had been raised in the evangelical sensibilities of the late 80s and early 90s. God, Jesus, salvation, and Friday night youth rallies were the social currency on which our public high school ironically thrived. You just didn’t quit church, let alone God. My declaration shocked some of my peers and set them on a mission to save me from eternal damnation.
Except for Amy.
Her quiet, nonchalant demeanor fascinated me since the first day of middle school band camp. When friends expressed concerned about my soul’s future, Amy tended to my present ache. Rather than reminding me of my potential damnation, she’d instead affirmed my disappointment with God and invited me to keep wrestling with all that unsettled me. On occasion, she’d invite me to join her Episcopal church’s youth group, promising me it was different than what I was accustomed to. “You can feel whatever you want to feel and we won’t judge you. And if you don’t like it, I’ll still love you.” Even though I declined her initial offers, the grace in her invitation softened my hardened edges.
Finally, after a year of occasional invitations, I took Amy up on her offer—more out of a desire to meet a cute guy than anything remotely spiritual. And when I opted out of the hymns and prayers, Amy didn’t bat an eyelash. But as she prepared to walk forward to receive Holy Communion, Amy grabbed my arm and whispered to me with an assertiveness I had never heard in her before and will never forget: “You don’t want to miss out on this.”
As she guided me to the altar, I opened up my hands, and smiled upon as the priest placed the sacrament into my hand, I realized that although I had given up on God, God had not given up on me. Neither had Amy. Amy never sought to fix, heal, or save me. But through her quiet faith, her steadfast care, and her unassuming spirit, she pointed me to a Love that would hold me in midnight hours—no matter how long and dark they lasted. Slowly, gingerly, I began to consider and embrace a different kind of faith—one that made space for mystery, nuance, and heartache.
Although Amy would balk at me saying this, she reminds me a lot of Andrew, Jesus’ first disciple, and the saint whose feast we celebrate today. As the one who introduced his brother Peter to Jesus and who would go on to point others to Christ, Andrew is also known as the first evangelist and patron saint of evangelism. Andrew’s evangelism wasn’t a warning against damnation, it was invitation to more. “Come, see,” he told his brother Peter.
As Andrew embodied, evangelism isn’t about convincing people to join a church or to believe a certain set of ideals. It’s an invitation to find a home with and in God’s matchless love, to come see that our lives are more glorious and wondrous than we can often imagine for ourselves. In showing up, over and over again—with grace, with compassion, and with an open invitation— Amy did that for me, even when I was ready to give up.
Amidst the increasingly horror of gun violence, political polarization, and Christian nationalism, it’s tempting (at least for me) to respond with a bully pulpit or giving up. But instead, we are invited, like Andrew did to Peter and all those whom he encountered over the years—to be people who invite others to experience and receive a Love and way of living (not simply a set of ideas or church membership) that can’t fathom giving up on us or on creation. No matter what.
Susanne Kohl-Parker says